2018-10-08 - And Here I Thought Us HiME Had It Rough

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Title: And Here I Thought Us HiME Had It Rough

Mikoto's promise to come home is a little delayed by circumstance. Mai and Natsuki learn the truth about what happened at Haneda. Mikoto realises something about herself and Mai.


Mikoto Minagi, Mai Tokiha, Natsuki Kuga


Ohtori Academy - Dormitories

OOC - IC Date:

2018-10-08 - 2015-05-20

.******************** Yamanote High City - Ohtori Academy *********************.
*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+* Dormitories +*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*
 There is some variation between the dormitories to provide a range suitable
 to different tastes, but they are typically old-fashioned and elegant, with
 low stone walls guiding the walkways and ivy creeping up their white walls
 and columns. Their exterior is classically European, like sedate manor
 houses, and for the most part this style is maintained inside, with
 dignified old paintings in thick goldleaf frames. However, the dormitories
 do not lack for daring Ohtori touches, with whimsical art deco floor
 panelling here, fantastical geometric lamps there, and odd little secret
 panels and dead ends throughout.

 Dorm rooms are generally shared between two same-gender students, but
 singles are almost as common; Ohtori students were not generally raised to
 share. There are some triples and quads available as well. Some dorms permit
 a great deal of leeway in decoration, others require students to stick to
 the default antique furniture. Many dorms have at least a small balcony,
 which provides an escape route for particularly rebellious students when
 curfews are instated.
*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+* Players +*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Mikoto didn't come home last night.

She - tried. She got Eri and Kyouko back to Eri's dorm. And that, in the end, was all she could do. She collapsed then and there, exhausted from so much extravagant magic. She slept, as much as it could be called sleep.

And then she rose and remembered la Sirene de Diamant's words, her vow to stand watch over what Sayaka was, and for Eri's sake - and, perhaps, the sake of a girl who interceded to help her against Kozue - she left as soon as she woke. La Sirene was wounded, though she bore it without complaint. Spent and injured, she would not make a good sentry. Would not - and was likely still standing.

It is not until mid-afternoon that Mikoto herself is relieved. She does not, after all, have a phone with which to call for assistance.

Neither does she have a phone to call Mai.

Perhaps it's a surprise, then, when Mikoto finally shows up. She wasn't in class, today, despite midterms in full swing. She doesn't bother trying, when she finally returns to Ohtori; class is basically over for the day. She goes straight back to their dorm. Promises are more important than grades.

That is where she will be found: curled upon the couch, socked feet tucked up against the cushion, hands wrapped around her legs, as if she could make a very convincing ball. Miroku, in its case, rests against the claw-footed coat rack beside the door. She's still in the clothes she was in yesterday, black bike shorts and cat-print shirt, though she's lost the denim jacket Natsuki suggested to her. It did look good. Now it's gone.

(Utena needed it more than she did, on account of all the blood.)

<Pose Tracker> Mai Tokiha [Ohtori Academy (12)] has posed.

The dorm room was cold, when Mikoto got in. Not just for the sake of everything having been left in silence for the day's classes - this is far from the first time classes have been skipped. It had a more muted chill than usual, casualties of the morning visible to perceptive eyes. Homework on the table, crumpled into angry little balls that almost seem singed; morning pyjamas flung into a corner, instead of folded on the chair; the absence of breakfast smells, indicating that the cold stove saw no use this morning.

Mai wasn't there.

It's hours after class by the time the key finally clicks in the lock, new sounds and smells making their presence known at last. There were a few false positives - other members of the dorm building returned home well before Mai today, even though the calendar showed no job for the afternoon. A mystery, perhaps -

- but perhaps not too hard to solve. The smell of coffee hits first, accentuated by the memory of chocolate. The rustle of plastic and paper next, the sounds and muted smells of a trip to get groceries. And, of course, a familiar voice to match a familiar smell - talking to someone who isn't in the room.

"...and I'm still not sure how all that's going to work out. Talking it over helped, though - it's not something I want to bother Mikoto or Eri with." A hand, burdened, reaches for the switch to toggle on the lights. "I figure the least I can do is offer you some good food to offset the desserts, I've got no idea when-"

Silence cuts like a blade as Mai spots the weapon in the coat rack, and a bookbag joins groceries in a not-so-controlled fall to the floor. Some very rapid shuffling as shoes nearly fly off, Mai bolting to check the bed, the corner by the fridge, the couch - "Mikoto! Kuga, can you get the door - Mikoto, are you all right?"

<Pose Tracker> Natsuki Kuga [Ohtori Academy (12)] has posed.

Natuski balances the bag in one hand while she sips the remains of her coffee in the other. She hadn't planned on going out tonight, but upon seeing Mai's face on one of the rare days she actually attended their shared class, she could tell her friend needed to vent.

"It's fine, I have a feeling you're overthinking it it a bit, but it's still something to keep an eye on." She gives a pat on Mai's shoulder both for comfort and to help Mai keep her balance as she unlocked the door.

"And yeah, I could use something that's not sugar coated. What exactly are you thinking-"

She trails off as she spies Mikoto's precious weapon on the door. "Well...looks like the cat finally came home."

She hears Mai's requests and both shuts and locks the door. Whatever reason Mikoto was gone for so long, Natsuki doubted they needed one of the nearby students to walk in the middle of it.

She goes and places the bag on the counter as she looks over to Mikoto. "Kid...I know I joke about you being a stray cat, but this is pushing it."

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Mai was worried. Of course Mai was worried.

Mikoto left a note, last night, stained with damp splotches of liquid. 'Eri needs help. Don't worry. I won't let Sayaka hurt Eri. We'll drag Eri in for more pudding. We'll' and the scant characters of that last sentence, scrawled through with thin line. Another scratch over the page, as if the pen had been tossed across it.

She'd told Mai not to worry, but it was pointless to tell someone not to worry after they just got home from worrying so much.

Mikoto's eyes glance up, as she hears a familiar voice. They cast down, again, as she hears Mai say she wouldn't want to burden her.

A bag clatters to the ground. There are cool, calm words, and ones blazing with alarm, and Mikoto opens her mouth to speak and finds nothing at all. At least - not until Mai finds her, the light of the afternoon shadowed by the clouds outside.

It never quite manages to rain.

The world's been crying for too long.

It's sad.

It's sad, the anxiety in Mai's voice, the chastisement in Natsuki's words. Mikoto looks down at her knees, takes a breath. "... Mai." She says, finally, and the word is forlorn and contrite.

Her conversation with Usagi feels like it was a lifetime away.

"I'm sorry," she says, because Mai has long since taught her that she's supposed to apologise when she does something wrong.

She does not say she is all right.

<Pose Tracker> Mai Tokiha [Ohtori Academy (12)] has posed.

There was a note. It even got read.

It didn't help. Not with what was at stake, not with how long Mikoto was gone.

And yet, and yet. For a girl whose precious people were in life-and-death struggles, not to be heard from for far too long - for a girl who presumably spent the full schoolday worrying - Mai honestly looks better than she has any right to be. The shadow under her eyes has faded, her back is a little straighter - it's as if she's half a burden lighter than usual. Bizarre - but whatever rest she found is only fuel for the present. Her gaze snaps back to Natsuki at the stray cat comment - though there's that slightest smile - but then she turns back to Mikoto. Takes in the apology.

There's no fussing, at least, Natsuki's presence enough to deter that. Instead, Mai seats herself on the couch next to the contrite cat. She opens her mouth, to address the apology - but a look of puzzlement crosses her face for a second. Sorry...for which of the many things it could be?

"...you were out helping Eri, and I imagine...it was a very, very long night." Severity in her tone, repeating something Mikoto knows - but that Natsuki might not. "...I understand, Mikoto. Can you talk about it?"

She does not say that it's all right.

<Pose Tracker> Natsuki Kuga [Ohtori Academy (12)] has posed.

Natsuki had seen the note.

She saw it that morning in class after sensing Mai was more worried than usual. She had tried to hide it, but Natuski had learned to read the tell tale signs when Mai was becoming anxious. It was for that reason she had treated Mai to coffee and sweets at her favorite coffee shop. They had spent the last couple of hours discussing, and some ranting, until Mai declared she had better have groceries ready for whenever Mikoto did come home.

Now, here was the source of Mai's worries today curled up against Mai like a cat, but Natsuki could sense had happened. Mikoto clearly knew Mai had worried, and Natsuki knew the kid hated to do that to her.

She wanted to assume that was what the 'sorry' was for but..no, her guy told her it was something else.

Natsuki went into the fridge, got a can of a cold drink and then brought it out to Mikoto.

"Guessing you didn't get anything to drink yet, right, kid?"

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

... Mai feels better when she isn't with...

Mikoto blinks, and swallows at the lump in her throat. What Mai wants is what's important. If it makes Mai happy, it will make Mikoto smile, too.

Mikoto doesn't smile.

There's a small, affirmative noise, as Mai surmises the situation. She can hear the severity in her words. They crush her.

It's Natsuki, who makes Mikoto look up. She shakes her head, as she takes the can, unlacing her arms and letting her feet drop to the ground. ... she doesn't look wounded.

She doesn't drink it, either, at least at first. She just holds onto it, lets the chill of the aluminium ground her.

Mikoto parts her lips, takes a breath which shudders. "... Eri's alive," she says, and each flat mora is carefully chosen. 'Alive'. Not 'okay'. Those golden eyes fall on the can, tracing the flecks of moisture which trail down it. Water, like...

She takes another breath.

"Eri's got... something scary inside. All Puella Magi do. And, I..." Mikoto frowns, her other hand curling at her chest as her eyes drop from can to ground. Perhaps she means to say that she is worried for them.

She cannot tell Mai and Natsuki that perhaps she is scary, too.

She is afraid.

"Mai was right." Mikoto finishes after long pause, as if that were what she meant to say. "I can't save Eri." Well. It is one half of the truth. "All I can do is, hold it off. Try and, keep Eri's soul gem from going black."

Her shoulders hunch, and her hands drop to her lap, all ten fingers curling around the can.

"... like Sayaka's did."

She trembles. Her voice is quiet and numbed.

"When it became a Grief Seed."

<Pose Tracker> Mai Tokiha [Ohtori Academy (12)] has posed.

Even in Mai's own home, Kuga's being a better host than she is...maybe best not to dwell on that. Natsuki gets the faintest of smiles, before the shorter girl turns back to Mikoto.

There's no smile. There's no anger. Worry, certainly - but Mai is years past the point of being able to live without worry. She folds her hands, by Mikoto's side, fingers worrying against each other, and tries to just...be there. Be a listening ear, like the one she just received.

The sigh of relief at those first words is nearly explosive, in the quiet that suffuses them. Alive. Not okay, but alive...which was better than she might have feared. Every conversation she has with that friend, she wonders if it might be the last...

But there's something scary. Something to fear, some looming darkness, like a heart that might refuse to beat any day...the things Mikoto fears are few enough in number that it's worth paying attention. In that pause, in that silence, a hand reaches out to Mikoto's shoulder, hesitating to offer that comfort...

And then Mai's proven right.

And then Mikoto admits what Eri might have known, what Mai might have suspected.

Mai's eyes screw shut for a second, in a great flinch - for a moment, she looks at Natsuki, a silent plea of pity and apology in them - and then she lunges forward to wrap Mikoto in her arms, murmuring apologies of sympathy.

A warm embrace - which freezes, still as stone, at Mikoto's next words. A tight hug, holding on as much as it's holding close, and disbelieving lips spill those words of context. "A Grief Seed? Like...a Witch?"

...she might not have words strong enough.

<Pose Tracker> Natsuki Kuga [Ohtori Academy (12)] has posed.

Natsuki has never been good at providing words of comfort. She's always fearful of saying the wrong thing, and right now she keeps her mouth shut. There was a time for being blunt but right now wasn't it. Her eyes widened at Mikoto's words and she catches the pleading look from Mai. She isn't bothered as Mai hugs the young girl. Natsuki isn't sure what else to do but give an awkward pat on Mikoto's head like a person patting a cat for the first time.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Mikoto is wrapped up, and she slumps, boneless, against Mai. The can is lodged between them, a shard of ice between the girl who loves and the girl she loves more than any other.

Natsuki will find her hair dry, more or less. It's only ever been sprinkling.

And for a long, horrible moment, she is still, before her hands unlace and clutch Mai in turn. She buries her face against her shoulder and tries not to think of the folding-in of a sinkhole which is something more or less than water.

Her shoulders shudder with her breath and she makes a noise which wobbles, and which might be affirmation, or discontent, or malaise. "Yeah." The mora does not seem nearly sufficient.

And there is silence, tick, tick, before Mikoto realises they may not know why.

"Grief Seeds hatch into Witches," she says, distantly, "unless Puella Magi use them. Why Witches are Puella Magi business. Or else Witches keep coming back..." She has long since been taught why it was dangerous to hold onto a Grief Seed, as a girl who was not involved. Eri's education would not belie such an important point.

She swallows. "Guess no one used that Grief Seed." As if she wasn't there.

<Pose Tracker> Mai Tokiha [Ohtori Academy (12)] has posed.

There's that bit of cold and metal between them, just enough to prevent total suffusion of warmth, just enough to keep them separate. A reminder that they've trod different paths today, seen different sights.

In spite of a little can of allegory, Mai holds on. That shudder reminds her that her companion here is still human, reminds her that she's not the only one doomed to lose a friend to this looming absolute destiny, and stone arms warm up once more. She backs off, for a moment, when Mikoto speaks up to give that much more context, that much that she didn't know.

It's helpful. Mai hates it.

"So, this Sayaka girl who was trying to avenge Tomoe...slipped up, and turned into one of the monsters she was supposed to be fighting. Because it's not enough to know that running out of Witches to hunt would kill them, if they run out of Witches then they become them..." Mai's hand rises up to pinch the bridge of her nose, to dispel pain with pain, and her tense jaw nearly trembles.

"...not enough that Eri-chan's wish wound up turned against her, not enough that she was condemned to death, she's got this looming destiny..." Mai lowers her hand, looking upon Mikoto with eyes that seem almost lost. Her next question lacks the anger, lacks the fury she was building, lacks the volume - it's in a very small voice that she asks, "Do you know what Eri-chan is going to do?"

<Pose Tracker> Natsuki Kuga [Ohtori Academy (12)] has posed.

Natsuki is silent, but her face hardens as Mai puts together the logic of Mikoto's words. She gives a small sigh. "And here I thought us HIME had it rough." She continued to pat Mikoto, but glances up to exchange a knowing gaze with Mai. "So, this Sayaka that turned into a witch? Is she still a threat at large?" She's hoping it's not probing too much but if there was a potential danger that could go after Mikoto, Natsuki wished to find out and make sure it stays away.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Mai spells it out. Mikoto's breath hitches, and she shivers against her. Her face is hidden. Mai might still feel her shoulder getting just a little more damp.

She's always known it was an ecosystem.

She never knew it was this efficient.

"Sleep." Mikoto says, insistently, to Mai's next question. It is, in fact, what Eri is immediately doing. She realises, a moment later, that it's not really sufficient, and her head raises under Natsuki's hand to finally look at Mai with damp eyes.

There is conflict, there, and uncertainty, and a deep, deep fear. "I dunno. I'll keep trying to protect Eri, but..." She can stop the Chevaliers from asking unreasonable things of Eri, but she cannot stop Eri from asking unreasonable things of herself.

Those eyes glance aside, to Natsuki. "... Witch's still out there. At Haneda airport. We're... keeping eye on it. Both sides." The Chevaliers and the Shepherds, and it is a shocking revelation she fully fails to linger on. "But, Chevaliers got hurt." She grunts, unsettled, a light frown creasing her brow. "... one half, anyway. Ones trying to stop Sayaka and Kozue and Endo and Tsubasa. Weren't really, helping us, but..." It was more like they had goals which superficially aligned.

She shakes her head. "... means they're not useful to fight Witch right now." Because it is a matter of what they can do for them, and not a matter of their inherent worth. It's a failure mode familiar to Mikoto Minagi, who for so long could only express her affection for Mai Tokiha by insisting she loved her food.

"Why I couldn't, come back earlier. Had to go help. La Sirene..." Mikoto trails off, eyes falling back to Mai's shoulder and the trace of tears she has left there. "... I owed that much."

<Pose Tracker> Mai Tokiha [Ohtori Academy (12)] has posed.

The answer to Mai's quiet question is blunt, obvious, and nearly makes her fall off the couch entirely. She catches herself, grabbing onto the cushion, and sighs in relief and exasperation. "Not...quite what I meant, Mikoto..." She fumbles, reaching for her handkerchief - pauses, remembering how dampened it got earlier today - and awkwardly reaches over to the side table for tissues.

Of course there's a box of tissues. Blood has to get cleaned up sometimes.

The actual answer is...not what Mai had feared, but not truly an answer. All she can do is hang her head in response, letting out another sigh. "...it's her choice, I guess. Where she goes from here. All we can do is buy her the space to make that choice..."

She looks up at Natsuki, face paling at the implications, and Mai bites back a curse at Mikoto's confirmation of the situation. The awakening of a new Witch, guarded from the public by two sides of a war...and vigilant Mikoto standing guard.

For the space of a few breaths, Mai dabs at Mikoto's eyes with the tissue, finally able to look with clear enough eyes to search for injuries, search for ailments...but she bites her lip, worrying at it. "...it's all right, Mikoto. I...should have pushed harder to replace your phone. With things like this going on, I..." She trails off, shaking her head as if to clear the air.

Her eyes meet Natsuki's for a moment. "...I think I'm going to have to offer a raincheck on that meal, Kuga. Things are a little heavy - we'll catch up, later, okay?"

Her attention has to be on Mikoto, though, and there it remains. There, amid talk of enemies, amid Mikoto having to treat foe as friend over the course of a long night...

Mai bites her lip again. Part of her wants to scream, to throw fury at the world for letting any of this happen, to berate Mikoto for staying loyal to a friend instead of retreating to safety, to shout her regrets that maybe stepping in herself might have done anything to avert this course...but it wouldn't do an ounce of good, would it? Right now, her friend is in front of her, vulnerable, and...that's a lot more important than what's happening at the airport.

"...what do you want to do, Mikoto? I have a few things I can cook, or..." She glances out the window, and her hand tightens until her nails bite into her palm.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Darren Korb - The Spine https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cyOLpv9nNfs

Mikoto blinks, as Mai catches herself. She answered the question, so she's not quite sure why Mai lost her balance like that. "Oh," she says.

Blood has to be cleaned up sometimes. Tears have to be cleaned up sometimes. Mikoto cries so often, now, though she tries not to be so sad. Mikoto cries so often, now, because...

She stays still, as Mai dabs at her eyes. Though there are still the little scraps of weariness to her - a bit of shadow under her eyes - she doesn't seem terribly injured, not physically. Mai speaks on a phone, and Mikoto remembers Kasagami's own frustrations. She hums frustration through her lips.

Something sad veils her eyes as she remembers that Mai was going to have a good time with Natsuki, and perhaps she might see it as she looks to her and nods as she slips away. She wishes Mai could have just had a good time, but she messed it up.

Yelling at Mikoto for her loyalty is not unlike yelling at a rock for not moving under its own power. In her ineffable nature she is designed for one trait above all others. It's well Mai thinks better of it.

But, in the end, what does Mikoto want to do?

She looks down, lips pressing together in thin line.

She wants to ask Mai to help, because Mai is so much more powerful than she is, and perhaps Mai could do what she could not. She wants to ask Mai to stay far away, because Mai is so much more good than she is, and perhaps Mai would shatter if she had to bear under the weight. She wants to tell Mai to run and never stop, because she is surrounded by monsters, and she will surely be eaten whole. She wants...

... she wants...

It doesn't matter lances into her mind, and she shakes her head, braids flicking about her face.

She wants, and clings to with trembling hand, no matter the risk to her: "Mai..." Mikoto's voice is tremulous and pained. "Let's... do something normal, okay..?"

Will that make Mai happy?

Mikoto cannot make any of her precious people happy any more.

<Pose Tracker> Mai Tokiha [Ohtori Academy (12)] has posed.

Nothing good can stay forever. Even returning to the past of a few hours' presence could only claim victory over a lurking secret, not any source of joy. Everything promising would at best fail and at worst become another betrayal.

The world might refuse to change, and actions done are written in stone...but here and now, Mai can only see the hurt on a precious person. That's what matters to her, and that's what stands before.

Many things might help Mikoto. Here and now...all she can do to find the best path is simply to ask. With trembling hands of her own, she takes Mikoto's hand. "Okay. I'll make supper, that should be normal...okay?"